5 Common Anti-Vaccination Arguments That Are Flawed
The Great Vaccine Debate
The anti-vaccination movement is louder and bigger than ever. As we see a resurgence in diseases previously thought to be under control and close to eradication, more and more people speak up against the movement. It's a heated topic among parents, and even those without children are taking an interest.
If you've ever participated in this debate, you've probably noticed that there are some go-to arguments. This article presents a list of some of the most common anti-vaccination arguments that don't have much (if any) scientific evidence on their side.
1. The decision not to vaccinate doesn't affect anyone else.
Unfortunately, vaccines are not infallible. If even 1% of the vaccinated population do not receive immunity to a disease, it is a substantial number. If you had a group of 100,000 children and had an ideal vaccination rate of 95%, there are still 950 vaccinated children at risk of being infected. With a vaccination rate of 95%, outbreaks are unlikely. However, vaccination rates have been falling in a number of developed countries and are now below 90%. As the number of unvaccinated grow and various outbreaks emerge across the world, the small percentage of vaccinated who unknowingly have no immunity are put at an even higher risk of contracting the diseases. In reality, 1% failure rate is generous, as it's estimated anywhere from 3-5% of the vaccinated population will be considered "vaccine failures".
An even more obvious group of children put at risk are those who cannot receive vaccinations due to a) medical issues, family history of adverse reactions, or allergies, and b) being too young to be immunized. These children depend on those healthy enough to receive vaccines to keep infectious diseases at bay, since they cannot receive direct protection.
A decision not vaccinate a healthy child may not seem like it makes a big difference, but as more and more parents make the same decision, the effects become a threat to public health.
Do you vaccinate/plan to vaccinate your children?
2. Vaccines cause autism.
Surely we're all familiar with this one, and despite the fact that this claim has zero scientific evidence to back it up, people still love to cling to it. Some people even go to the trouble of making neat-o graphs and distorting data to 'prove' the link.
One of the first things one learns when doing any sort of research, is that correlation does not equal causation. The majority of the scientific community acknowledges no causal relationship between vaccines and autism, and it's not for a lack of searching. A search for "vaccines and autism" pulls up 4,420 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. After reading 48 abstracts, not one suggests that any connection has been found. Admittedly, I do not plan on reading all 4,420 articles, and 48 is a small sample size. However, given the fact that the first 48 results deemed "most relevant" to vaccines and autism do not include any evidence to suggest a causal link, it's probably safe to assume that there is no study in the midst of these articles that offers any sort revelation to the contrary.
So, why do so many people believe vaccines cause autism? It seems to be mostly based on anecdotal evidence, which in the world of scientific study, doesn't hold much weight.
Additives are important!
- Adjuvants help the body's immune system respond to the vaccine
- Additives such as formaldehyde inactive dangerous bacteria and viruses
- Additives play an integral role in keeping vaccines safe and efficient
3. There are too many additives in vaccines.
Thimerosal: People just love to talk about thimerosal. It's talked about so much that it's almost as though people don't realize that thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines back in 1999. The only vaccines that currently use thimerosal in Canada are the flu vaccine and hepatitis B (which offers a thimerosal-free version, if it's of concern to the parent).
Pulling thimerosal from the majority of vaccines was a strictly precautionary measure, which has unfortunately been deemed as admittance that it posed a threat.
Aluminum: Add it to the list of things that allegedly cause autism. In case you've lost track, here's a quick summary:
- Thimerosal causes autism even though autism rates have continued to climb since it was removed from almost all vaccines.
- The MMR causes autism even though it doesn't include thimerosal or aluminum.
- Where's the common denominator here?
Back to the aluminum: There's a movie called The Greater Good which is pretty heavy on the anti-vaccine bias, and it does a little segment on aluminum. It features a study which shows some pretty clear-cut negative affects of small amounts of aluminum (like that present in vaccines) on motor neurons in mice. One of the guys who conducted the study goes on to say that no one has dared to replicate the study for fear of the truth, or something as equally ominous, and after doing a search of peer-reviewed scientific journals, it appears he's correct; no one has replicated the results. But, is it because people don't want to, or because they can't? If you've ever studied the scientific method, you'll know that if no one can replicate your results, your study probably wasn't that good.
Aborted fetal cells: Talk about sensationalism! This is one of those arguments that is exaggerated to hit you right in the gut, and it's certainly cringeworthy.
Viruses require something to grow on. That something happened to be fetal tissue used from legally aborted fetuses in the 1960s. The cell lines have been descending rapidly for over 50 years and no cells in any vaccine we have today are the cells from an aborted fetus. Not only that, but most (if not all) cells are removed during the purification process.
The important thing is to acknowledge that people who create vaccines don't just throw in random ingredients for the fun of it. The adjuvants are necessary to make the vaccines as safe and effective as possible. Interestingly, it's been suggested that the testing of the 1966 vaccine against RSV, which was a complete failure and resulted in hospitalizations and two deaths, could have been a result of no TLR agonists present in the vaccine. This goes to show that leaving adjuvants out can be much more devastating than putting them in.
Likewise, no parent injects these ingredients into their child for the fun of it. Do I love the idea injecting aluminum into my kid? Nope. But it's for a reason, and a very important one at that.
4. Herd immunity is a myth.
This claim seems to be growing in popularity, and yet it is incredibly difficult to find actual scientific evidence to back it up. A quick search for "herd immunity myth" brings up a whole bunch of results, but they all come from anti-vaccination websites.
So, does any reputable, unbiased scientific journal endorse the idea that herd immunity, as it relates to vaccines, is a myth?
A quick search of peer-reviewed scientific journals brings up 193 results for "herd immunity myth". However, not one of these 193 articles makes any suggestion that herd immunity is a myth. Actually, quite the contrary: These articles are focused on dispelling vaccination myths and assert the importance of herd immunity, explaining how and why it works.
Backtracking to the Google results, what you find is a lot of talk and no sources. There are a few interesting articles on why particular vaccines may not contribute to herd immunity as originally thought, but this in no way means that herd immunity is a myth. There are boosters and multiple doses for vaccines that have been shown to have waning immunity to ensure that herd immunity is sustained.
5. The prevalence of infectious diseases was already declining before vaccines were created.
- The person who wrote this article does an absolutely perfect job of exposing how this claim is incredibly misleading when it comes to measles specifically.
- The smallpox vaccine is the most glaringly obvious success. The vaccine was introduced in 1967, and was deemed to be eradicated in 1979 after an aggressive vaccination initiative.
- Canada saw an 80% decrease in cases of diphtheria within just 4 years of the vaccination being introduced; reports of diphtheria were consistent in the years leading up the vaccination (ie. not already steadily declining).
- Mumps saw a 99% decrease in less than 20 years. Prevalence of mumps had peaked 3 years before the mumps vaccine was licensed (ie. not already steadily declining).
The CDC pinkbook has a lot of this information and provides data on prevalence of all preventable diseases before and after vaccination.
It's interesting to think about how many people refused vaccinations when they first came out, when infectious diseases were commonplace and the chances of losing your child to one of them were dangerously high. Would we still be worrying about the trace amounts of aluminum or formaldehyde in a vaccine if the alternative was a very real chance of our child contracting a deadly disease?
Vaccines are truly a victim of their own success. The fact that people don't have to look these diseases in the face at every corner distances them from the reality of how horrific they once were. Instead, we speculate on things that have been disproved repeatedly. We question the motives of everyone in the industry.
Asking questions is good. Looking to make things safer and looking for reassurance is good. But constantly dwelling on it is perhaps shifting the fear away from the thing we should be most afraid of. My only hope is that it doesn't take another round of infectious diseases to make people see the importance of vaccinations.